Do Business Leaders Need to Write Well to Succeed?

Thom Haller asks on TCW if ‘to be an effective leader, you need to learn how to write well’.

Do You Need to Write Well to Succeed?

world-leaders-as-pandasHere’s how I see it.
If you can communicate clearly, then there is a greater chance that people will understand what you want to them.
They ‘may’ trust you more – I don’t know.
I worked in Fortune 500 companies, as I’m sure you folks did, but I didn’t necessarily trust the people or the wisdom of their strategies.
But I know what they expected of me and my team—so we did it.
The failing of most senior managers tend to be:

  1. Mixed messages
  2. Lack of ownership, and
  3. Political correctness.

Some have these forced upon them, (i.e. social pressures) while for others it’s just a habit.
Warren Buffet’s annual reports, which are posted on the Berkshire site, are worth looking at.
Simple, easy to read, no waffle.
Thom asked if I could give some examples.
The last company I worked for brought in a new CEO as we needed to turn things around fast.
Here’s what he did (among other things):

  • Every communication you send has the move the task towards completion. In other words, communications (emails, reports, speeches) are to push the task to the next step/person/activity.
  • If what you say/do slows the process or (as was the case with my line mgr) obscures what’s happening the he (as the main firefighter) can see what’s going on.
  • Specifically he told us to:
  • keep team mtgs to less than 20 min – if you can’t solve it by then, escalate. Most people will find a way to find resolution rather than escalate and look incompetent.
  • keep one-2-one mtgs to 5 min – e.g. the pm mon mtg with head of dev. All you want to know is a) is it on track 2) can you fix it 3) when will it be fixed. The pms started to interview the team leads for 5 min. in and out. No messing around.
  • Make the tech docs shorter. He wanted thin docs. No fluff. He personally reviewed all tech docs. We had his permission to cut out the waffle.
  • Use traffic head lights on all status reports, e.g. red for critical etc.
  • Status reports were printed out and put on the wall, i.e. everyone saw if your project was on/off schedule.
  • Forbid us to use TLAs. Everything had to be worked correctly. Why? TLAs (to him) were short-hand for laziness. This drove people mad but he pushed it repeatedly.

His emails were a series of action points. E.g.
1. Ivan Walsh – tech docs – fri – status
There was no chitchat.
The combination of all this was that people were more direct, immediate and effective. It was a combined effort but it had a v positive effect on the workplace.
After a few months, it felt like we were communicating better.
Also, he praised people who got it right.
You can read the rest of this discussion on The Content Wrangler
What do you think?
Does your team lead, line manager or CEO really need to know how to write well?
Can you give an example of how you’ve seen this work or fail in your organization?

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